With its glorious sun, white sand and turquoise waters, Lido Key Beach would be a picture-perfect postcard of Florida beaches if it weren’t for the dozens of dead fish lying on the shore, killed by a toxic algae bloom known as red water.
The bloom usually hits Florida’s Gulf Coast in the summer, but this year it has arrived during the spring, a time when thousands of American families flock to the Sunshine State for the school holidays, and the outbreak bodes ill for the tourism sector.
On the terrace of the Lido Beach Resort, Jeff Napier, a 62-year-old employee, laments the impact the red water has had on his business.
“We had a lot of cancellations. People are getting sick,” Napier told AFP. “Why would you spend that kind of money and stay here?”
High amounts of the harmful algae, known as Karenia brevis, can kill marine life and cause respiratory complications in some people. It also has a sulphurous, rotting smell.
Dick Bowser experienced it himself a few days ago. The 80-year-old tourist walks the shoreline with a cane in each hand, happy that ocean currents have turned the tide away from Sarasota, at least for now.
“It smelled terrible. I couldn’t bear to be near the beach,” Bowser said. “It bothered me in the form of coughing, continuous coughing. I had a sore throat every day, had problems with my eyes or sinuses.”
In Napier’s case, the toxic algae gave him five days of migraines, something he doesn’t want to experience again.
“They just have to fix the red tide. They have to fix it,” he says. — But I don’t know what they’re going to do with it.
“Kill the Algae”
Fifty kilometers (30 miles) from Lido Key Beach, scientists from the Mote Marine Laboratory have been working since 2020 to reduce the impact of red water, a phenomenon first reported by Spanish explorers in the 15th and 16th centuries, based on accounts of natives. population in the area.
The goal of the research is to “kill the algae, denature the toxin and not have a significant impact on the non-target species,” explains Dr. Michael Crosby, president and CEO of the lab.
To achieve this, scientists grow specimens of Karenia brevis in huge tanks of seawater that mimic the ecosystem of the Gulf of Mexico and test various substances against it.
So far, they have identified a dozen methods that work, and over the next two years they plan to test them in the ocean, says Crosby.
“You’d Still Have Red Tides”
But Crosby warns that it is impossible to completely eradicate red tide, because unlike other harmful algae that are often the result of human activity on land, such as from agricultural runoff, Karenia brevis occurs naturally.
“We will never get rid of the red water completely,” he says.
Florida’s red tides begin about 40 miles off the state’s west coast and can approach the shoreline following ocean currents.
The current outbreak was triggered by Hurricane Ian, which hit Florida in September, pushing existing redwater to the surface, Crosby explains.
Once at the coast, microalgae spread when they come into contact with water rich in nutrients, either naturally or through agricultural activity.
“We are investigating the extent to which it might be possible that humans, particularly land-based input of nutrients, could exacerbate a red tide in terms of its intensity, or its duration.”
“But even if you took all the people out of the state of Florida, you’d still have red tides,” he adds.
Opposite the Lido Beach Resort, Napier seems resigned to living with the toxic bloom.
“You have to be aware that there is red water in Florida. It’s been here for hundreds of years.”
© 2023 AFP
Citation: Unwanted visitor ruins Florida spring break—Toxic algae (2023, March 19) Retrieved March 19, 2023, from https://phys.org/news/2023-03-unwanted-visitor-floridatoxic-algae.html
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